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Thomson Nelson > Higher Education > Canadian Criminal Justice: A Primer 2nd Edition > 

Motivation and Concentration

Know Your Type

While lack of motivation can result for a number of reasons, including lack of interest (see Commitment), frustration over low marks, and worry, it may also reflect an habitual approach to school on the part of a student. A number of common patterns of behaviour can cause motivation problems if carried to extremes. While it is unusual to fit neatly into only one pattern, can you see elements of your approach in any of the following behaviour types?

The Perfectionist:

The perfectionist is motivated to do an exceptional job on every academic task. This type of student works very hard and tries to complete all of the assigned work without any shortcuts at all. While conscientiousness and diligence can be a strength, perfectionism becomes a weakness when a student is not very strategic. The perfectionist is inefficient because he or she believes that everything is equally important and requires a lot of work. It is important to prioritize tasks and make time-saving decisions, especially during busy times of the school year.

The "On the Spur of the Moment" Decision Maker:

This type of student usually does not plan ahead. Although he/she may be motivated to do school work, it is always a last minute rush. This is not always a problem, since some students work better under the pressure of an imminent deadline. However, this kind of behaviour can become a weakness if competing tasks combine to create an unmanageable load. Without the benefit of foresight, the student may be forced to hand in substandard work or sacrifice studying in order to complete assignments.

The Game Player:

The game player is motivated by the desire to do the minimum amount of work for the maximum payoff. This approach can prove to be a significant strength. The student prioritizes tasks, makes good use of resources, such as talking to instructors and looking up old exams, and listens intently for cues about which content is especially important. The negative element to the game player is evident in the student who constantly manipulates the system to get deadlines extended. This can backfire if extensions compound, or if the student gets a reputation for lateness.

The "Count Me In" Student:

This type of student is motivated to be involved in a lot more than course work; for example, political activities, sports, paid employment, volunteer work, and social activities. While personal development certainly can be enhanced by varied pursuits, it is important to pay particular attention to prioritzing among competing activities. With a wide range of interests and only 24 hours in the day, the "count me in" student needs strong time management skills. When poor time management collides with active involvement in a variety of activities, the end result is often incomplete assignments and below-potential performance.

The "I‚ ll be at the library" Student:

This type of student has limited involvement in activities outside school. Academic activities absorb most of his or her available time. There are different reasons why a student may be motivated to focus almost exclusively on school, including genuine intellectual fervour or fear that anything less than 100% dedication will result in failure. The advantages and disadvantages of this approach depend on the personality characteristics of the student: some students manage splendidly while others cope very poorly when school work becomes the major component in their lives. It is this distinction that helps to determine whether the behaviour pattern is a problem or not.

From Joan Fleet and Denise Reaume, Power Over Time: Student Success with Time Management (Toronto: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994), pp. 50-55.


Your level of commitment while studying is closely linked to your interest in the subject matter, the way in which the course is taught, the setting, and whether or not it is an optional or mandatory course. The following strategies can help you to maintain a high level of commitment to a course:

  • Find out as much as you can about a course before choosing to take it. Read the calendar description, talk to the instructor, and, if possible, talk to students who have taken the course. Check that your background is adequate to enable you to handle the course without any major problems and that you feel confident about the workload.
  • Assess the contribution that the course will make to your general knowledge, to your diploma or degree program, and to possible career choices. Your commitment will be stronger if you have a clear idea about the benefits of the course.
  • Know the rules and regulations governing the course. If you have a clear idea of whether or not you can withdraw from a course if things go poorly, you will not feel so trapped and be better able to give it a reasonable effort.
  • If you anticipate any problems, you may wish to be part of a study group. In difficult courses, it can be helpful for students to meet to share ideas and study tasks.
  • Try to work regularly at the course. It is difficult to maintain a high level of commitment when you fall behind and get overwhelmed by the amount of work.
  • Try to generate interest in a required course. You might try to find out about the history of the course or talk about it with someone who seems to enjoy it.

From Joan Fleet, Fiona Goodchild and Richard Zajchowski, Learning for Success: Effective Strategies for Students (Toronto: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1999), p. 47.

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